The Empathy Connection Creating Caring Communities

The Empathy
Creating Caring
through the
The Doris Day Animal Foundation (DDAF) is a national nonprofit
organization working to create caring communities. Thanks to a
generous grant from the Claire Giannini Fund, we are pleased to
present “The Empathy Connection,” a publication designed to
help parents, teachers, and other adults instill the important skill
of empathy in our youth.
As a mother of two school-age children, president of the parent
teacher’s association of a middle school, and as the Executive
Director of the Doris Day Animal Foundation, I know how important
empathy is in children’s development. Empathy is an important
skill, related to success in many areas of development—social,
academic, and personal. Learning how to respond empathetically
is also the best antidote to violence, bullying, and other unwanted,
aggressive behavior in children.
The basic tenet of DDAF’s “creating caring communities” mission is
that the protection of, and respect for, animals is closely linked to
human welfare. The development of empathy is a case in point:
one of the best—and probably one of the most enjoyable—ways
to teach children empathy is through the human-animal relationship.
The Doris Day Animal Foundation offers training workshops and
materials designed to help professional and lay communities
address the problem of violence and promote positive development
in children, families, and communities. We do this by demonstrating
how paying attention to the animal-human welfare link builds safer,
more creative communities for all living creatures.
We hope you will let us know how you used “The Empathy
Connection,” or other DDAF materials. Also, please contact us
if you would like information about the Doris Day Animal
Foundation, or if you have any questions or suggestions.
Holly E. Hazard
Executive Director
The Empathy Connection
Beginning at birth, we surround
children with animal presences.
Their clothing is decorated with animals. Stuffed animals are
cuddled, named, and become trusted confidants. Plastic
animals accompany them in their baths. Most children learn
their numbers by counting animals and learn to read from
pages filled with pictures of animals. Of course, real animals
also fill their lives: companions at home, creatures encountered in nature, and those introduced to them in school and
in the media.
The purpose of this booklet is to provide teachers and parents
with information on the importance of empathy to children’s
success at school and in their social and personal lives.
We will also illustrate the valuable role that animals play in
the development of empathy. We will offer practical ideas
for helping children learn this important skill through their
everyday contact with animals.
Once we become alert to the various ways in which the lives
When a child expresses empathy, she shows selfof animals intersect with ours, we can take advantage of this
awareness, the ability to manage emotions and
relationship to provide children with the opportunity to grow
delay gratification.
empathetically. “The Empathy Connection” first answers
basic questions: What is empathy? Why is empathy important? What does empathy have to do with how we treat animals?
After establishing this understanding, we will present both general
and specific “empathy building tips.”
What is empathy?
Empathy is both a cognitive and an emotional skill. The term empathy
can be used in two ways. It can mean a “thinking” response, or the
ability to think about and describe how another being feels. For
example, Jane recognizes that her friend Susan is anxious about talking
in front of the class. She thinks to herself, “Susan’s face is getting red
and she is fidgeting in her seat. I think she’s afraid that the teacher will
call on her.” Empathy also can refer to the ability to “feel”—to experience
another person or animal’s feelings and circumstances. In seeing her
friend become uncomfortable, Susan herself can experience some of
the anxious feelings her friend is experiencing. Susan also feels a mild
discomfort as she “tunes into” her friend’s emotions.
Why is empathy important?
In addition to the familiar cognitive intelligence measured by standard Intelligence Quotient tests, educators and psychologists now
recognize the importance of other types of intelligence—emotional,
social, and moral. All these intelligences play an important role in
guiding a child toward a productive and satisfying life—one in which
she or he can be a valuable member of society. Adults also benefit
from empathy training. One study found that adults who were given
empathy training expressed greater job satisfaction and were better
at teamwork.1 And empathy is not only about feeling; it is also about
acting. Young people trained to feel empathy for a group of needy
people also were more likely to help the needy by approving money
for a program that would assist them.2
Some educators may question the extent to which it is a school’s job
to develop kindness, generosity, compassion, and helpfulness in their
students. Even educators who believe in staying focused on “the
three Rs,” however, will be interested to learn that the latest
research shows that successful learners are knowledgeable,
self-determined, strategic, and empathetic.3
Successful students are successful in
school, at home, and in the community.
A child who is a successful learner possesses a number of
important qualities. She is knowledgeable and creative. She
has the ability to acquire, evaluate, and apply her knowledge.
She is also motivated to learn and has confidence in herself as
a learner. And the successful learner demonstrates “. . . insight
into the motives, feelings, and behavior of others and the ability
to communicate this understanding—in a word, empathy.”4
Successful students are successful in school, at home, and in
the community. They know how to communicate with others.
They are both able to look at themselves through the eyes of
another and put themselves in another’s place.
We know a lot more today than we did thirty years ago about the importance of developing empathy in youth. We have learned that helping
children develop empathy is good for them, and good for communities.
■ Empathy is an important emotional resource linked to many
positive psychological traits. Children who are empathetic also
tend to be more resilient; they are better able to handle stress
and “bounce back” from difficulties.5 Resilient individuals also
are more confident and are able to make use of social support
and find coping strategies when needed.6
■ Empathetic children also are more socially competent7 and
more popular with their peers.8
■ Previously psychologists believed people perceived
someone as a leader because they could perform
complex tasks. Now we know that the perception of
someone as a leader is also influenced by his or her
emotional skills.9
■ Empathetic children are less likely to be overly
■ Researchers have found correlations between empathy
and cognitive skills, such as spatial ability. One study
found that empathetic people were better able to give
directions to a stranger.11
■ When a child expresses empathy, he shows selfawareness, the ability to manage emotions and
delay gratification.12
A twelve-year old boy who decides to walk his dog
and miss the first part of his favorite television show
displays both attributes. He understands that his dog,
who has been alone in the house for eight hours,
craves companionship and stimulation. In accepting
his dog’s desire for a walk, he is able to postpone his
immediate needs. By walking the dog instead of
watching television, this boy has developed his emotional intelligence and his capacity for empathy.
■ Empathy promotes “moral intelligence,” the capacity
to understand right from wrong and the ability to act
on that understanding. A morally intelligent person
makes decisions that benefit not only herself but also
others around her.13
Empathy is an important emotional
resource linked to many positive
psychological traits.
■ Empathy encourages “prosocial” behavior—behavior that has
a positive social consequence.14
For example, Christopher is one of the more popular boys in
his third-grade class. A new student, Roger, is transferred into
the class mid-year from a school in another state. Roger is shy
and small for his size. On his first day of school, when he is
introduced to the classroom, some of the children begin to
snicker and comment on his size. After the introduction, the
teacher instructs the class to choose partners for a math exercise. Christopher, who is sitting in front of Roger, turns around
and asks him if he would like to be his partner. Roger gratefully
accepts and is eventually accepted by the class.
What does empathy have to do
with animals?
Children often experience a natural affinity for animals—one
that researchers find begins in infancy. Children and animals
can be a good mix. One study of three hundred boys and
girls between the ages of three and thirteen found that 99.3
percent of them wanted pets—a clear indication of children’s
overall positive attitude toward companion animals.15
This is why a growing variety of programs pair animals with
children. Pet therapy animals interact with the children of
domestic violence victims and children with special physical
and emotional needs. At-risk youth learn how to train shelter
dogs using positive rewards instead of punishment, creating
more adoptable dogs. The animal enjoys a lively and caring
companion; the youth enjoys an affectionate relationship
and learns about responsibility, care, and reciprocity.
Research demonstrates very tangible benefits to children
who form bonds with animals:
■ Children who form a bond with their companion animal
score higher on measures of social competence and
Ten-year-old children who had established
strong bonds with their dog had significantly higher self-esteem, as well as
greater empathy.
■ Children perceive their pets as special friends, important
family members, and providers of social interactions,
affection, and emotional support.17
■ Children who had a pet during their childhood were more
empathetic, more prone to enter a helping profession, and
were more oriented toward social values than those without a pet.18
■ Animals can facilitate social interaction between children:
When an animal is present, children are more likely to interact
with a disabled child.19
■ Children who had increased empathy scores because of their
relationship with their pets also showed greater empathy
toward people.20
■ Ten-year-old children who had established strong bonds with
their dog had significantly higher self-esteem, as well as
greater empathy.21 When a dog was present in the classroom
of first graders, they showed higher social integration and less
aggression compared to children in a classroom without an
Teaching empathy through the
human-animal relationship
Parents can help their children by paying attention to how they interact with animals. Parents should both discourage unwanted conduct
as well as promote positive behavior.
Recognize undesirable behavior
Children’s mistreatment of animals often is a warning sign that they
are developing aggressive behavioral tendencies. When should
parents and teachers be concerned about their child’s treatment
of animals? Consider these factors:
✔ The age of the child and her understanding of the consequences
of her actions.
A two-year-old who chases the family cat may not understand
that she is frightening or annoying the animal.
✔ The child’s reaction to the situation.
A ten-year-old boy is throwing stones at geese in a nearby pond.
His father intervenes, pointing out that he is disturbing the
animals and could hurt them. Is the child willing to correct his
behavior? Does he express regret that he bothered the animal?
✔ The degree of injury.
When children frighten or disturb an animal, or cause minimal
discomfort, the parent or teacher should step in. If an animal
sustains an injury, the situation is very serious.
✔ Whether the behavior was planned or spontaneous.
It is less serious if a thirteen-year-old girl spontaneously decides
in a moment of bad judgment to let her dog chase a neighbor’s cat than if she planned to do it.
✔ The number of animals affected and whether the child repeated
the behavior.
If the young girl whose dog chases a neighbor’s cat also provoked
her dog to chase squirrels and a number of other neighbor’s cats,
her actions would be considered more serious.
Parents should get involved if they see—or hear about—their child
behaving inappropriately with an animal. What is inappropriate
behavior? Below are some warning signs for parents.
The child:
▼ Handles animals roughly.
▼ Deliberately tries to frighten animals.
▼ Intentionally tries to injure animals.
▼ Treats animals like “objects” or “toys” rather than living creatures.
▼ Shows no interest or awareness of animals’
interests or needs.
▼ Exhibits other aggressive, or impulsive, tendencies.
▼ Does not respond to parental or other adult intervention
regarding their treatment of animals.
Turn unwanted behavior into
something positive
Intervene whenever your child mistreats
an animal—whether in a minor way, such
as chasing birds, or more seriously.
Try to end the intervention with a positive experience between
the child and the animal, if possible.
Stop the behavior firmly and gently.
Explain to the child that he or she is
frightening, or hurting, the animal.
Ask the child to imagine how the
animal feels being treated that way.
Ask the child if he or she knows what
he or she was thinking or feeling before
mistreating the animal.
Ask the child how he or she could have
approached or handled the animal
Try to end the intervention with a positive experience between the child and
the animal, if possible.
The first step is to make sure no harm is
done in the child-animal relationship.
However, this is just the first step of many
that can contribute to building a child’s
capacity for empathy.
Empathy building tips
Like any other skill—riding a bike, learning to write, or playing the
piano—empathy can be developed. We are born with the potential
to be empathetic. Experts on empathy agree that encouraging the
expression of empathy requires four things:
Learning the cognitive skill of taking another
being’s perspective, or role.23
For example, Frank is six years old. When his two-year-old sister
was cranky after awakening from her nap, and the usual things
did not cheer her up, he understood why she remained unhappy.
Frank, his mother and father were drinking pink lemonade. Since
they had run out of pink lemonade, Frank’s mother offered his
sister yellow lemonade, which she refused. Frank realized she
wanted the pink lemonade, like everybody else, and he offered
his sister his pink lemonade. She accepted it with a smile. Frank
was able to put himself in his sister’s place. Doing that enabled
him to solve the problem of his sister’s crankiness.
Being exposed to interactions and
social experiences in which empathy
is demonstrated.
Children who see their parents, teachers, older siblings, and
classmates being kind, and acting kindly toward them, are
more likely to act that way themselves.24
Having one’s own emotional needs satisfied
so that one can respond to another’s.25
Learning particular and practical skills.
Children exposed to empathy training score higher on measures of
empathy and sociability than
children without the skill training.
Specialists also agree that children will not necessarily
change their behavior simply because they were exposed
to information or talked about an issue with their parents.
Children need to learn specific, concrete skills in order to
change their behavior—whether that change is becoming
less aggressive or making better interpersonal choices.26
The evidence is clear: Children exposed to empathy training score
higher on measures of empathy and sociability than children without
the skill training.27
The expression of empathy requires having one’s emotional
needs satisfied so that one can respond to another’s.
All of the empathy building tips that follow address one or more of
those points. For example, reading animal-friendly stories, and asking
questions that build perspective taking, will help develop empathy.
Perspective taking refers to the cognitive ability to place one’s self in
another’s situation and to understand the other’s feelings and reactions. How would it feel to be that animal? What do you imagine the
animal is feeling? Would you like to be that animal? Why or why not?
Children can be exposed to empathy by participating in a family
activity in which the purpose is to help another. For example, helping
manage human-wildlife conflict can be a family project. Parents and
children can research how to live peacefully with deer in their area—
by selective planting, fencing, and other methods. Or a family can
participate in a “GeesePeace” project, in which a community learns
nonlethal tactics for living closely with large geese populations. Or a
family can volunteer at a local humane society. Dogs and cats greatly
appreciate the interaction and company that volunteers provide.
Parents and children can
research how to live peacefully with deer in their area.
Reading aloud to a child helps meet a child’s emotional needs.
Especially for younger children, reading aloud with a parent provides
the experience of a positive, close physical presence that can be
reassuring and comforting. A parent sitting on a couch with his child
next to him, his arm draped around the child’s shoulder, reading a
book together and speculating on what will happen next, builds a
child’s sense of security, which aids learning. Many parents and
teachers today use the “time-out” method as a way to teach a child
self-management skills. “Time-outs” are an effective nonpunitive
technique that can be used to correct misbehavior. Just as important, though, are “time-ins.” Time-ins are moments when the parent
and child interact in a positive way and in which the child experiences physical reassurance, such as a parent’s stroking her hair or
rubbing her back.28
Four considerations for parents
and teachers
1. Seize the Opportunity
Children interact with animals in their everyday lives and they witness
human-animal interactions in a variety of ways—on television, in books,
in computer games, in the neighborhood, and at home. Parents and
teachers can take the opportunity to point out to children both negative
and positive interactions. Ask the child to notice the behavior, what he
thinks of it, and how he thinks the animal might be feeling.
For example, many cartoons feature animals being shot from cannons,
flattened by motor vehicles, or caught in some physically precarious
position. Typically, the cartoon animal miraculously survives this treatment, although they may look a little the worse for wear.
If your child is viewing such a cartoon, ask him what he thinks would
happen in real life if the animal had the same experience. Explore
why they show animals in this way in cartoons. What makes it funny?
How would he make sure that other children don’t think it’s okay to
treat animals this way?
2. Make It Positive
While it is important to correct a child’s behavior, always try to end an
intervention on a positive note. If a child is handling an animal too
roughly, tell the child that this kind of interaction is inappropriate, and
why. Explain what it feels like to be the animal. Then help the child
have a positive interaction with the animal—patting the dog slowly
and gently; observing how the geese move and swim, rather than
chasing them; picking the cat up in a way that protects the cat and
makes her feel safe.
What would you do in this situation? You are a parent who occasionally
volunteers in your son’s second-grade classroom. A classroom rabbit
lives in the classroom during the day and with the teacher in the
evenings and weekends. When the teacher is distracted, you notice
two girls who seem to deliberately tease the rabbit—poking pencils
into his crate and flicking their fingers against the crate so that the
crate rattles. Would you ignore the behavior until you saw it repeated?
Would you talk to the two girls? What would you say?
Or would you talk to the teacher?
3. Make It Interesting
Children are naturally fascinated with animals—just like adults! Use
that natural inclination to teach them perspective taking, one of the
first steps to learning empathy.
For example, play the “Who Am I?” game. Have members of the family identify a particular animal they
know or have heard about. Younger children will need assistance from an older sibling or a parent. For
instance, an eight-year-old girl chooses a neighbor’s dog. Other family members try to identify the animal
she is thinking about by asking questions that can only be answered with a “yes” or “no.” Are you alive now?
Do you have four legs? Do you weigh more than fifty pounds? Do I know you personally? If the family cannot
guess the animal’s identity in twenty questions, the player wins a prize—perhaps the right to choose the next
family video, to play a computer game, or to choose what to eat for dinner.
Another game works during family car trips. Each player identifies an animal she or he observes and then
takes on the role of that animal— the cow in the field, the dog on the leash, the bird singing in the tree. Ask
them to describe what it is like to be that animal. What are they thinking? Feeling? What would they like to
do? If they could talk, what would they say and to whom? What is their favorite activity? Why? What are they
most afraid of? What makes them the happiest?
4. Set an Example
Children tend to mimic the actions of parents and teachers, not what
they say. As a parent, teacher, or caring adult, you are the most
important lesson for your child. How you treat others, and the child,
will be more critical than anything else you do or say.
The research is clear: parents who act empathetically are more likely
to have children who are empathetic. And teachers who model the
desired behaviors have students who are more likely to adopt these
Perform an “empathy check”:
✔ Observe your interactions with other family members.
Do you pay attention to their feelings and take them
into account? Do you sometimes try to walk in their
shoes to see what it may feel like to be them?
✔ Can you think of one example in the last week when
someone was kind to you? Do you remember how you
felt or how you responded?
✔ Have you taken the time to enjoy a tender moment
with your child in which he felt physical closeness and
comfort? If you have companion animals in the home,
have you taken time to interact with them?
✔ Think of three ways in the next week you can show
your child what it means to be empathetic. For example,
you may initiate a family project to volunteer at a
humane society, offer to walk an elderly neighbor’s
dog or feed her cat, or help out with low-cost
spay/neuter programs in your area. You also might
review family activities with an “empathy lens” that
takes into account what effect the activity has on the
animals involved (petting farms, circuses, etc.). Have a
family discussion, using empathy for the animals to
decide the best course of action.
✔ Study famous people known for being empathetic:
Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Teresa, Albert Schweitzer,
and Jane Goodall. What made this person empathetic? How did they become who they were? What hardships did they have to overcome? If you could ask
them one question, what would it be?
Teaching the language of emotion
Parents and teachers who encourage children to discuss their feelings and
problems help children develop their capacity for empathy. Teaching the
language of emotion develops emotional intelligence. Intelligence is not
just something a child is born with. All types of intelligence—cognitive,
social, moral, emotional—respond to education. While heredity plays
a part, intelligence grows through learning skills, practicing those skills,
seeing those skills modeled by others, and by being rewarded for
exhibiting the skills.30
Understanding our feelings is important for a number of reasons. They can
help us make decisions or interfere with our ability to function. They can explain
something to us or they can make something more difficult to understand.
Here’s an example: Sara’s parents noticed that recently she had started
delaying going to bed. They reminded her about their bedtime rules and
that they existed for a good reason. When they asked her what she thought
the problem was, Sara didn’t know at first. “Close your eyes and imagine
that it is time to go to bed,” her dad said. “Picture yourself walking to the
bedroom. What are you feeling? What are you imagining?” With this help
from her dad, Sara said she felt scared. “What’s there to be afraid of?” he
asked. “Mommy and I are here with you.” Then Sara realized: “I’m afraid
Mommy won’t come back when she goes to her night job.” Directly discussing
Sara’s fear, Dad and Mom reassured her and Sara was able to fall asleep
again. In this process, Sara learned how to identify a feeling. We do not always
know we are scared. Sometimes we are too scared to know we are scared—
instead we might act angry, or grouchy, or oppositional.
Encouraging children to
discuss their feelings and
problems helps them develop
their capacity for empathy.
The first step in learning the language of emotion is to identify a feeling and
name it.31 This is not always as easy as it seems. Here are some helpful hints to
teach your child the language of emotion.
✔ Use an “emotional wheel” to teach your child the names of feelings. During
a peaceful moment, show them the wheel and ask them about one or two
of the feelings. Do they remember a time when they felt sad? Why? How
about feeling frustrated? Do they know what it means to feel concerned?
✔ After your child has learned some of the names for feelings, use the wheel
to help them identify and name a feeling at the time it is occurring. For
example, perhaps you notice your child becoming frustrated as he tries to
put a toy together. Have him describe what he’s feeling by selecting a feeling from the emotional wheel. If he is a young child, you may have to
guide him, or offer him choices. Affirm his ability to identify his feeling and
remind him that naming a feeling is the first step. The next step you will work
on together is how to make choices about what to do based on knowing
what his feeling is.
Specific steps to empathy
Children—and adults—of all ages can benefit from empathy training.
Here are the basic components:
Present the idea of empathy.
Tell children what it is, describe how it develops, and give examples.
Explain why empathy is important: they, and those around them, will
be more effective and happy. Once they understand the behavior of
empathy, and the word to describe that behavior, they have a word
to mentally classify various behaviors and attitudes. This gives children
the cognitive labels they need to hold onto an idea and then to
apply that idea in new situations.
Concentrate initially on the child’s feelings.
Experts agree that children who learn “the language
of emotion” are better equipped to handle academic,
social, and emotional challenges.
Focus on the similarities between the
child and others.
Researchers have found that empathy for others is
enhanced if the teaching strategy focuses on similarities
first and only later calls attention to differences.32
When looking at similarities between the child
and others, make sure to include animals!
When looking at similarities between the child and others,
make sure to include animals! Focusing on similarities
helps the child move from a perspective centered on the
self to one where he or she is able to recognize and “take
in” an ever-widening range of perspectives. This is a normal developmental process, but one that needs to be
encouraged. What we have called “perspective taking”—
being able to put yourself into someone else’s position
and to experience what they are thinking and feeling—
benefits a child’s cognitive development as well as
emotional development. It also provides them with skills
to more successfully respond to a variety of social and
interpersonal situations.
Many young girls express a fascination with horses, for
instance. Information about horses can be obtained from
the library and the Internet. One useful exercise would be to identify
all of the characteristics horses and people share: being a mammal,
experiencing emotions, family relationships, the use of senses.
Although there are obvious differences between horses and humans,
this exercise would focus solely on the similarities.
Role play to put what has been learned in
empathy training to the test.
One researcher noted that empathy is related to critical thinking and
imagination.33 She goes on to note that role-taking, the key feature of
empathy building, promotes the kinds of mental habits associated with
astute thinking: open-mindedness, novel approaches to problems,
cognitive and personal flexibility, and persistent inquiring.
Here is a good example of role taking: The classmates of Sharon, a
twelve-year-old, selected her to be the leader of their group project.
Sharon was quite pleased to be selected as the group leader,
because she was a new student at that school and was just beginning to get to know her classmates. The group decided to investigate
the lives of chimpanzees—where they originate, what we know about
their intelligence and social lives, and how well they are doing as a
species. Is their survival being threatened or are they thriving? In the
course of their investigation, the group discovered that there was a
controversy around chimpanzees being used in entertainment, e.g.,
using chimpanzees as actors in movies, television shows, and commercials. Some members of the group did not think this was important.
They thought the group should just study chimpanzees in their natural
habitat. Sharon suggests that all aspects of chimpanzee’s lives should
be examined.
Select someone to play the role of Sharon. Choose two or three other
children to play the roles of her friends. Give them the overview of the
dilemma and ask them to take on the roles. Offer to coach their performance so that key factors are covered: paying attention to one’s
own sensitivities, being able to communicate how one is feeling, listening
to others’ ideas while at the same time maintaining one’s own perspective, handling peer pressure and need for acceptance. Coach
the children on a solution to the group conflict, such as forming a subgroup that examines the problem of chimpanzees in entertainment.
Encourage cooperation.
All skills, whether they are social, cognitive, or emotional, need to be
learned, and parents and teachers can set up situations where that
can happen.
In the classroom, use the jigsaw technique, a group learning exercise
in which each student must cooperate with his or her classmates to
achieve individual goals.34
STEP 1: Divide students into five- or six-person jigsaw groups. Make the
groups as diverse as possible.
STEP 2: Appoint one student from each group as the leader. Initially, this
person should be the most mature student in the group.
STEP 3: Divide a lesson into five or six segments.
If you want the students to learn about the
problem of homeless animals, you might
divide the problem into the following segments:
What is the extent of the problem? (national and
state statistics for number of animals, how state
and local agencies handle the problem, etc.)
What’s involved with spay/neuter programs
and adoption? (How does it get done? What
resources are available? Does it work? What
are the alternatives?)
What are “no kill” shelters? (When did they
begin? Why did they begin? How many are
there? Are they doing any good?)
All skills, whether they are social, cognitive, or emotional,
need to be learned.
What is the role of breeders and pet stores in
the problem of homeless animals? (Are they
part of the problem or part of the solution?
Why or why not?)
Identify and describe a model program that addresses the problem
of homeless animals. (What makes it a model? What is the evidence
for its success? How can other communities duplicate it? )
STEP 4: Assign each student to learn one segment. Make sure students
only have access to their segment.
STEP 5: Give students time to read over their segment. They do not have
to memorize it.
STEP 6: Form temporary “expert” groups by having one student from
each jigsaw group join other students assigned to the same segment.
Give students in these expert groups time to discuss and research the
main points of their segment and then to rehearse the presentations
they will make to their jigsaw group.
STEP 7: Bring the students back into their
original jigsaw groups.
STEP 8: Have each student present his or her segment to the group.
Encourage others in the group to ask questions for clarification.
STEP 9: Circulate among the groups and offer coaching when necessary.
STEP 10: At the end of the session, give a quiz on the material so that
students understand the importance of paying attention to others
and cooperating.
Provide exposure to emotionally arousing situations.
One way children learn empathy is by being exposed to emotional
events or situations in which they witness an animal or person in
distress or need. Of course, it is important to be sure that the nature
of the scene is suitable for the age of the child. Material that is too
graphic, or presented to a child too young to process it, can clearly
be detrimental. However, if thoughtfully done, triggering emotions
amplifies the acquisition of empathy.
Some examples: Study the plight of a farmed animal that has
escaped a truck on the way to a slaughterhouse. Or visit a wildlife
rehabilitation center and learn about the various ways in which
wild animals are injured, either deliberately or accidentally. Or
research a local animal cruelty case. Talk about what happened
to the animal. Who was the abuser? What should happen to
the abuser?
Learn to think,“I am a good person.”
It is important for a child to have the skills to show empathy—to express
caring attitudes, to behave with sensitivity and kindness, and to be
able to care about others. Just as important is that the child thinks of
himself or herself as a “good person.” Children who think well of
themselves are much more likely to respond empathetically and to in
their ability to care and act responsibly.35
Michael, a 9-year-old boy, noticed his cat trying to get at a baby
rabbit near his home in the country. He intervened by waving his
cat away, looked around, but did not see a mother rabbit nearby.
He gently picked up the baby rabbit and took it to his mother.
Together, they called the local Humane Society to determine how
best to care for the rabbit. Michael’s mother congratulated him
on his thoughtfulness, saying, “I think you are a good person for
noticing the baby rabbit and making sure you did something to
help him.”
Children who think of themselves as good people are more likely to
become just that—good children and good adults. Positive selfimages lead to lasting behavior and values that do not depend on
another person’s presence.
The most talented basketball players, pianists, golfers, and writers all
have one thing in common: they practice, practice, practice.
We know that empathy is a skill that can be learned. It requires cognitive
abilities, emotional intelligence, the development of certain ideas about
self (I am good) and others (they are like me), and the capacity to act.
Like any other skill, it requires practice on a continuous, lifelong basis.
Some children, particularly younger ones, may not find it easy to
imagine being an animal or other person. Perhaps the child has not
received many empathetic responses. Perhaps they are still too
young to grasp the concept. This makes it all the more important for
parents to be continuously alert to ways of building empathy in their
children and for teachers to keep in mind both formal and informal
ways to teach, and demonstrate, empathy.
Employ closing exercises.
After teaching an empathy lesson, if possible, reinforce what was
learned by having the children participate in an activity that gives
closure to the experience. For example, they may want to draw a
picture, write a story, make a collage, or keep a diary about their
experience. Children who have access to and interest in computers
can make a slide show. Offer suggestions to children about closing
activities and invite them to create their own. Encourage activities
that may be used to communicate what they have learned to others.
The last word
We believe empathy is clearly a “basic skill” that every
child deserves, and needs, to learn. All of us can benefit
from thinking more about empathy—what it means, and
how to develop and nurture it. (Another benefit of teaching
empathy is that it helps the teacher remember important
lessons, too!)
We hope that you will discover that learning about—and
teaching—empathy can be very rewarding. Equipping
your child with empathy is one of the most important
things you can do for her or him. You will have vastly
increased your child’s chances of academic and interpersonal success. Your child benefits, as do your child’s
family, friends, and community.
We believe empathy is clearly a “basic skill” that
every child deserves, and needs, to learn.
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